300 Megapixels Worth of Heartache

So the DNA sequencing facility I work at moved to a different hospital campus a couple weeks back, and the boss finally got rid of a few deprecated sequencing machines that were taking up valuable storage space. Gave them a good clean-out so no nasty chemicals were left in them, and sent them off for disposal.

Two SOLiD 5500XLs, two SOLiD 5500s and a single SOLiD 4 sequencer. Five sequencers in total. These sequencers use fluorescently-tagged DNA fragments to sequence stands of DNA bound to microscopic beads immobilised on a glass plate; in short, they take pictures of glowing DNA, cleave off the glowy bit, attach a new, different glowy bit, rinse and repeat. Then, through the magic of SCIENCE and COMPUTING POWER, we get a DNA sequence.



That’s not important at the moment.

What’s important is, that to get the sorts of resolution needed to tell each of these microscopic beads apart, you need a pretty damn good camera and optics assembly. I don’t care about the optics assembly, I have narrower bandpass filters in my camera already. The camera sensor though….. There were five of these beasts that I could have acquired.

The sensors inside those machines were sixty, that’s right, six-zero, 60 megapixel CCD-type sensors. That’s not the biggest sensor in the world, but it’s certainly up there. As a comparison, the sensor I used for all of the astrophotos I’ve put up on this blog is a TrueSense Imaging KAF-8300, 22.5mm diagonal 8.3 megapixel sensor.

A little bit of searching brought up the model of sensor in the sequencing machines.

They were FTF9168M sensors from Teledyne DALSA, the glorious bastards that brought into the world the 111MP single-chip sensor for the Astrometry Department of the U.S. Naval Observatory (http://www.dpreview.com/articles/1319797632/dalsa100mp), and the 570MP FermiLab Dark Energy Survey camera (https://www.darkenergysurvey.org/DECam/DECam_add_tech.shtml).



Long whitepaper short: these imaging assemblies had larger sensors with a higher resolution than any commercially available CCD for astrophotography, quantum efficiency that puts a lot of other sensors to shame, and double the dynamic range of my current sensor.

I only learnt of this AFTER the machines had been disposed of.


No chance of salvage, no chance at making an array of sensors, no chance at selling three off and making obscene amounts of money. I was in physical pain when I heard that. The expression on my boss’s face when he realised what he had done was an amazing amount of shock and horror. I will be hurting about this to the end of my days.


300 megapixels worth of heartache.


Stay angry my friends, I certainly will.

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